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Who is the Lich King? The Lore Behind the Game

by: Finn Orfano ; edited by: Michael Hartman ; updated: 4/18/2012 • Leave a comment

We’ve played the game, but exactly who is the Lich King? Is it the spirit of Ner’Zhul, bound to this world by the demon Kil’Jaeden? Is it a corrupted Prince Arthas? Or is it both?

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    The Lich King

    Image from Blizzard Entertainment
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    The Beginning

    The story of the Lich King begins with Ner’Zhul, a powerful orc shaman and leader of his people. Ner’Zhul fell in league with the demon Kil’Jaeden and set about the downfall of the orcs that led to the rise of the bloodthirsty Horde and the destruction of Draenor.

    When confronted by Kil’Jaeden, Ner’Zhul refused to submit fully to the will of the Burning Legion. He was tortured by the demon and eventually given an ultimatum: serve the Legion or suffer an eternity of agony. Ner’Zhul relented and was given new life as the leader of the Undead Scourge. He was known as the Lich King. His spirit was bound to a suit of armor and the runeblade Frostmourne. To prevent further rebellion, the raiments of the Lich King were sealed inside an icy tomb wrenched from the farthest reaches of the Twisting Nether.

    As time passed, Ner’Zhul sought a way to subvert his captors. He carved a crack in his ice prison and pushed the sword Frostmourne through it, allowing it to settle in the frozen wasteland of Northrend. Recruiting an ambitious Mage of Dalaran by the name of Kel’Thuzad, Ner’Zhul set about putting his nefarious plan in motion. He crafted a plague that could be carried by grain and gave it to Kel’Thuzad to distribute among the townships in Azeroth. Few suspected that the plague, far from being a mere disease, would also revive the dead and compel them to serve the Lich King’s ends.

    Ostensibly to pave the way for the Burning Legion’s invasion of Azeroth, the Scourge quickly set about fortifying the Legion’s hold on Azeroth. As the Scourge progressed, it came to the attention of a young Paladin in the service of the Order of the Silver Hand. A prince, by the name of Arthas Menethil. After seeing his people torn asunder by the undead, Arthas vowed to protect his people and chase the Scourge to the ends of the earth.

    He confronted the dreadlord Mal’Ganis in the city of Stratholme and rather than see his people fall into undeath, he ordered the city purged. The shattered remnants of Stratholme stand today in what is now the Eastern Plaguelands. Continuing his pursuit of Mal’Ganis, believing him to be behind the Scourge, Arthas chased the dreadlord to Northrend, where he encountered his old friend, Muradin Bronzebeard. Muradin told Arthas of a sword which legend held, could save his people. That blade’s name: Frostmourne.

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    Rise to Power

    Arthas set out to claim Frostmourne and succeeded. He used it to slay Mal’Ganis and bring about the end of his reign of terror. But then, with the blade in his hands, whispering dark truths to him, Arthas disappeared into the frozen wastes.

    All of Azeroth cheered when Arthas finally returned home. But the cheers were but a whisper to the prince. With Frostmourne telling him what must be done, Arthas killed his father, King Terenas and went on to kill his former mentor, the great Paladin Uther Lightbringer. He resurrected Kel’Thuzad and proceeded to lay waste to Capital City and the elven forest of Quel’Thalas.

    After the Burning Legion’s defeat at the hands of the Alliance and Horde forces, Arthas returned to Lordaeron. He quickly became haunted by visions of the Lich King in his prison, under siege from hostile forces. He returned to Northrend to find the Lich King being attacked by elven survivors of Silvermoon, known as Blood Elves. Along with the wayward demon hunter Illidan Stormrage,

    Arthas met up with other elements of the Scourge, notably the Crypt Lord Anub’arak. They raced to the summit to find their enemy, Illidan, had become that which he hated most: a demon. Arthas and Illidan fought a might battle but in the end, Illidan was defeated. He retreated to the Black Temple in Draenor to plan his next moves. As Illidan fled, Arthas ascended the steps to the Lich King’s ice throne. With Froustmourne in hand, Arthas destroyed the Frozen Throne and took up the Lich King’s armor. In doing so, Arthas completed the circle, allowing the Lich King’s spirit to mingle with his own; he became one with the Lich King.

    Now the Lich King is under assault once again as the heroes of Azeroth, Kalimdor and Draenor venture to Northrend. Frostmourne thirsts for the souls of the heroic and the forces pushing into Northrend must be ever watchful, for the Lich King’s agents are everywhere.

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